Paul J. Croce's Research: Learning in the Field
My major research areas, nineteenth-century science and religion and William James's life and thought, grew from personal questions. As a young adult, I wondered about the fate of religion in the modern world, especially given the challenges of science and secular society. I found James's response in "The Will to Believe" (1895) very compelling. As a cultural and intellectual historian, this led me to ask how he came to develop his creative ideas. Since the early 1980s, I have been investigating the cultural and intellectual influences on James and his impact on the world around him. This inquiry immersed my research in issues of science and religion since those were the factors that surrounded James as he came of age. These rich questions about science, religion and William James continue to be at the heart of my research enterprises.
I've written many conference papers, books reviews, encyclopedia entries and articles on these topics, and my chief work is in cultural biography of James, including the book, Science and Religion in the Era of William James: Eclipse of Certainty (University of North Carolina Press, 1995). I emphasize extensive continuities from his early intellectual development through his famous and influential theories, and present James integrating science and religion by doing science as humanistic practice and presenting religion in relation to scientific wonder and spiritual mystery. These themes in James have prompted my recent interests in applying James's insights to understanding the values clusters in American culture, and they provide the deepest commitment behind much of my teaching, including courses in science and religion, nature and the marketplace, the history of health care, war and peace, political campaigns and cultural ideologies, and an exploration of the 1960s as a cultural watershed.
For readers not familiar with James, you can profit from his own words on religion in "The Will to Believe," on his philosophy of pragmatism in "The Present Dilemma in Philosophy," and on his psychology in Talks to Teachers and to Students. For commentaries on James, see the writings in William James Studies, including my address as president of the William James Society, "The Non-Disciplinary James." In addition to my book, Eclipse of Certainty, you can see other shorter pieces, including encyclopedia entries, book reviews and articles by looking at the citations in my curriculum vita and see the links below for a few full texts:
- An encyclopedia entry on William James
- An essay drawing lessons from James's convictions
- An encyclopedia entry on nineteenth-century science and religion
- A book review of books on American science and religion
- An article on James's personal crisis
In addition to these works of scholarship, I also write occasional general-audience publications. Many of my topics for these works involve more politics and popular culture than appears, at least on the surface, in my scholarship. But there is a relationship: Politics and popular culture are the more generally accessible and noticeable features of intellectual commitments, but like the tip of the iceberg, these cultural formations are built on deeply set theories and world views. Writing for multiple audiences is a natural outgrowth of working in American studies, which has made me keenly aware of the distinct but interlocking realms of culture, and which has been a beacon for linking scholarship and activism. I think it is a public duty of the scholar - especially the interdisciplinary scholar - to be conversant in both the popular and the expert realms, assess their relations and contribute to dialog among all groups of people. It's also some work in the spirit of James, who was himself a committed public intellectual.